With so many bright and beautiful people out there helping to spread the wellness word around the world, we here at Hacienda Del Sol decided it high time we help share the wealth of health to our readers and guests. Over the next few months, we will be inviting various friends in our online community to post here on the blog. These guest posts will cover everything from recipe inspiration and nutrition tips, to fitness faqs and how-tos. We can’t wait to see what our writers share, and hope that you will be excited to see the info too!
by Rachel Girardi, M.Sc. With an educational background in psychology, Rachel combines her love for fitness and good food to help her clients improve their health and the quality of their lives. She firmly believes that life is not meant to be a never-ending diet. Her mission is to uncover how to fit ‘healthy’ into your life and help you to live your own personal best.
On occasion when I’m training a client, I ask them what part of the body they want to train. Four times out of five they say ‘the core’, which to them means ‘the abs’, so you can imagine their surprise when I don’t ask them to do crunches, but instead get them working on strengthening their lower back or performing squats and deadlifts. For some reason, the myth has persisted that the term ‘core’ only means the abdominals when in fact, the core involves all of the muscles that stabilize the torso, the muscles that maintain the position of the scapula (shoulders) and the lower body muscles that stabilize the pelvis. In others words, the core can almost be thought of as everything except the limbs!
The confusion continues when it comes to discussing the purpose of the core, because for many people, the purpose of the core is to look nice in a bathing suit. Fair enough. But the core actually serves much greater purposes: stabilizing the spine, preventing injury, and assisting with our posture (to prevent back pain). Think about this past winter (sorry to bring you down such a sad memory lane) and how many times your feet skidded on the ice. When this happened, your core would have kicked in to prevent out of control rotation and movement of the spine, and therefore keep you off the ice and safe from injury.
Keeping that in mind, when it comes to strengthening the core, we want to focus most on resisting rotation and building stabilization of the spine. So how do we do that?
First off, we need to learn how to engage our core through breath. Contracting the abdominals is extremely important, and often done wrong. Rather than ‘sucking in your gut’ and puffing out your chest you want to think about pulling your abdominals into your spine while keeping the rib cage contracted (in other words you don’t want those ribs flaring out!)
Next you’ve got to pick the right exercises! There are so many great core exercises to choose from that it’s impossible to pick a ‘best option’. Instead I’ve decided to give you my top 3 Core exercises that you likely aren’t using (and you should be!)
- Farmer’s walk
How to do it: Put something heavy in each of your hands. Brace your core, stand upright and walk. Easy. Breezy.
Why it’s awesome: By carrying a significant load, your core must work to resist that load and keep you upright. It will work not only your rectus abdominus and obliques, but also your back. Plus as an added bonus, it will work on your grip strength, arms and is a killer overall fat burner!
Another option? Only put a load in one hand. Doing an off-weighted farmer’s walk will make your unweighted side work even harder to stay upright!
2. Plank pulses
Typically when people do planks they pride themselves on how long they can hold them. But what if there was a more effective way to use planks to strengthen your core? There is.
How to do it: Get into a plank position: on your forearms with shoulders directly above your elbows, feet shoulder width apart, a neutral spine without piked hips or an arched back. Hold your plank while contracting your abdominals and squeezing your glutes as tight as you can for 8-10 seconds. Then drop your body to the floor, releasing the contraction in your abs. Once released, lift again immediately and hold for another 8-10 seconds. Complete as many rounds as you can without losing your form.
Why it’s awesome: When you perform a plank for as long as you can, your hip flexors turn on and as a result, much of the lifting is done with your hip flexors, not your abs. By releasing the plank every 8-10 seconds, you put the focus on the abdominals and have a much more effective plank. Try it out. I bet you’ll be surprised at how much harder these are!
- Palloff Presses
How to do it: Attach a D-handle to a cable pulley (or attach a band to a pole/banister) at waist height. Hold it at your sternum and stand perpendicular to the cable machine/banister, far enough away that you feel tension on the cable. Keep your shoulders and hips square and press the cable out away from your body, resisting rotation towards the machine. Hold the position for 2 seconds and then bring your hands back to sternum. Repeat for 8-12 repetitions per side.
Why it’s awesome: This is a fantastic exercise to work your stabilizers in the correct sequence and strengthen your centre of gravity. It’s often recommended for runners and anyone looking to reduce back pain.